The opening keynote is the State-of the-Nation speech of IT

Don Scheibenreif

04-11-2019 | door: Marco van der Hoeven

The opening keynote is the State-of the-Nation speech of IT

The opening keynote at the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo is like the state-of-the-nation speech for the it industry. The themes and predictions that will be presented there will resonate throughout the sector over the coming year. Many executives will also use the insights gained to determine their strategic vision. Executive people speaks to the people behind this influential message.

Don Scheibenreif is the lead author of the commanding opening keynote at the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo for the third time. It’s ‘our State of the Nation’, as he calls it. ‘It is the foremost presentation in which we determine the agenda and key messages for the coming year.’ It takes a whole year to write the keynote, and it all starts as soon as the previous edition of the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo concludes. Scheibenreif says, ‘Once we start, we have a rough idea of the direction we want to take, but as for the substance, we crowdsource that from the Gartner community. Because good ideas can come from anywhere. It’s a kind of a competition where people compete to have their ideas included in the keynote.’


‘You could compare this with making a two-hour television epic. We work with a production crew, writers, and speakers, we do a lot of rehearsals, and then it’s time for the big show. Just before this interview, the last keynote was given for the eighth and final time in Toronto, Canada. There are a lot of eyes on this, because it’s the biggest presentation of the year for us.’ At this early stage of the preparations, we don’t know everything about the keynote yet and there is still a lot of hard work to be done. But Scheibenreif is able to give us a sneak preview. ‘Every year, we tell a new chapter of the story about the impact that digital developments are having on business and society.’


‘In 2014, we introduced the concept of digital business. Over time, trends such as a bimodal IT and artificial intelligence have emerged. Then, last year we introduced the concept of ContinuousNext. This is our vision for the way that organizations can keep up in a world that is constantly changing.’ ‘This year, we’re planning to continue the story about the impact of digital transformation on society. The angle we have chosen this year is the changing role of the CIO and IT in digital society. We raised the issue of digital society four years ago, but now we will look at it in more detail. We think that the CIO should act like a bridge between the digital business and digital society.’ But what does this mean for CIOs in real terms? ‘It is still early days, but what we can say is that we have already been telling the story of how the role of the CIO has been shifting from IT delivery to business executive for a number of years. This is the principle guiding us this year. Because they use technology, artificial intelligence, and data analytics every day, the CIO is the person other executives talk to talk about the effects of digitalization. This trend has been established for a number of years.’

‘This year, we are going to be addressing the gap between digital ambition and reality. We are seeing a lot of reports about all kinds of digital ambitions that are not actually realistic. So, we want to talk about the reality, and how you actually achieve those ambitions.’


Scheibenreif’s colleague Jenny Sussin, Managing Vice President for Sales and Customer Experience, has also been involved in writing the keynote over the past couple of years. The theme of the keynote this year has a lot of crossover with her team’s field of research. ‘One of the things we are looking at is what role the CIO is currently playing in the customer experience, what role the CIO should be playing, and at what point the CIO needs to step in.’ 'In many organizations, the CIO is still not a leader in the customer experience. They are responsible for digital transformation, but their role is not customer-facing. IT is often seen as an internal service. But in this day and age, when everything is going digital, the CIO needs to take the initiative to improve the customer experience by harnessing digital opportunities.’


In doing so, they have to deal with other executives, such as those in marketing, which means that now more than ever they need to know what’s going on in the organization and what drives it. ‘For CIOs, this means that they have to become more business savvy and develop even more expertise on digitalization.’ The role of the CIO is changing – that’s nothing new. It’s been happening for a few years, but it’s becoming more pressing, according to Gartner analysts. Traditionally, organizations are complex and don’t change from one day to the next. But organizations that focus on digitalization are much more successful, our research suggests. And that means CIOs’ responsibilities are changing.’


Scheibenreif adds, ‘We are also seeing more being expected of the CIO when it comes to digital transformation. That is something that has clearly changed. The role of the CIO also depends on the person who holds the position and their ambitions.’ Coordination is needed now more than ever, Sussin continues. ‘It's so easy to buy IT today. Consumerization plays a huge role, so everyone who has the budget can purchase an application that helps the customer experience. And that works to a limited extent. But ultimately, organizations will find that many different departments are working with individual applications, meaning there isn’t a coherent experience for customers and they have to deal with all those solutions separately. A unified customer experience is something the CIO can play an important role in.’

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